Emotional Intelligence definition

Emotional intelligence is the ability to evaluate, analyse, control manage the emotions of yourself and others. Opinion is split on whether EI is an inborn skill or whether it can be learned and honed through measurement and training.

EI is traditionally split into ability EI and trait EI: the former is measured using maximum performance tests, like IQ tests, while the latter is self-reported and seen as correlating with personality.

Critics of emotional intelligence say the results it produces are inapplicable to real world environments – some class it in the same group as IQ testing. They also criticise its measurement methods.

Common measurement methods include the Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI), Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire (SASQ) and the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS).

Emotional intelligence developed out of early works on the importance of social skills in life success. In 1920, psychologist Edward Thorndike labelled social intelligence the ability to understand and manage other people and in 1940, psychologist David Wechsler proposed that abstract forms of reasoning may form part of the intelligence make-up. In 1950, Abraham Maslow – known for Maslow's hierarchy of needs – noted that people could build emotional strength and develop their ability to effectively handle and control emotions.

Since then, theory has developed and emotional intelligence has emerged as one strand of an individual's overall cognitive abilities. The concept was brought into the public sphere by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”


Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.